Battery Dance Company worked and performed throughout 11 German Cities in September - October 2009
None of the teaching artists from Battery Dance Company spoke both German and English. This caused some difficulty with communication between BDC and local German students. However, the Dancing to Connect workshops use dance to serve as a universal language, from which the students can learn and build relationships.
Dancing to Connect, the international arts education initiative of the Battery Dance Company, entered its fourth year with a 33-day program that stretched across Germany in Autumn, 2009. Between September 13 and October 16, the team of 12 artists from New York City’s Battery Dance Company and its partner company Drastic Action taught choreography workshops to students from 18 high schools. Over 300 students were engaged in creating dances that responded to the history of the Fall of the Berlin Wall and the so-called Peaceful Revolution in the 20th Anniversary year of those events. A striking feature of the program was in the selection of participating schools: with only one or two exceptions, the schools were all of the lower rank of the German secondary educational system (Hauptschules, Realschules and/or Berufskollegs) and the students were often children of immigrant families.
The dance interactions proved life-changing for many participants according to their teachers and school principals. Reiner Düchting, Headmaster of the Hauptschule am Stoppenberg in Essen offered this assessment of Dancing to Connect:
Many girls and boys of our school are shaped by numerous frustrations and disappointments which are linked on the one hand with their bad results at school and on the other hand also with their difficult family and social backgrounds. They experience and judge this as their individual failure and develop thereabouts worries, fears that they won’t find the place in society which they want after school and which they - because of their abilities - normally could have hoped to achieve. Their fears are not without reasons: less than 50 % of those students find an apprenticeship after school. That’s why they fear the future and are not much motivated for the tasks and challenges of the present. The dancing project is for them a great experience which gives them energy and helps developing their self- esteem. The close, family-like bonds in the dance group during the training, the ability to express their experiences, their personal strength, wishes, hopes, moments of their personal history through the dancing, the efforts and strain because of the dancing, the encouragement through the coach, the work for a common joint, the performance, are not limited to this one project: This period of time and these experiences together with the performance in front of parents, teachers, brothers and sisters, friends and foreign people will be encouragement for their further development, they will give motivation and stimulation like a “lighthouse” does, to find their own way with more strength and self-esteem.
The Berlin Lehrerzeitung, Berlin's newspaper for the teaching profession, added, "There are high points in school life that leave permanent traces in all participants and which they will remember with eyes agleam because they make school something special. Dancing to Connect was such a high point."
Performances took place in mainstream public theaters in Sachsen-Anhalt, NRW and Berlin-Brandenburg, drawing large crowds of people of all generations. Many in the audience, attracted by the participation of a family member in the performance, had not previously frequented the theater. The performances garnered national attention through a five-minute feature on the popular public television broadcast, "Nachtmagazin". The Markische Allgemeine Zeitung titled its review, "The New Youth Movement" and described the performance in the Nikolaisaal as "an exceptionally fresh stage program with lay dancers and professionals." The involvement of the professionals as well as the students on stage and back-stage introduced yet another element of connection and validation: This was not a student performance and as such forgiven for lack of polish; rather, the students rose to the level of professionals and comported themselves accordingly.
The structure of each Dancing to Connect workshop matched two professional teaching artists with approximately 20 students, ranging in age from 14 - 21. Both boys and girls participated, and most often grade levels were mixed. In NRW and Berlin-Brandenburg, the groups were composed of students all of whom came from the same school; however, in Sachsen-Anhalt, schools were combined, enabling students to be involved from 8 instead of 5 schools. In all but one case, students participated voluntarily; and in all cases, students were freed from their academic requirements so that they could focus exclusively on the dance project for the six workshop days as well as the performance day.
As in past years, the ability to understand and communicate in English was a side-benefit of the project as none of the teaching artists spoke German and English was the medium for teaching in the dance workshops. Personal involvement with the history of their parents’ and grandparents’ generations and a profound exploration of the dramatic political and social events of 1989 in Germany were also notable benefits for the students, who, in many cases, appeared to be only slightly familiar with these circumstances at the beginning of the project.